Interview Nicola Roberts: ‘The Music Industry Can Be A Bit Political’

Roberts lets us in on a few secrets.

Nicola Roberts might by laid up in bed with a bad back but she still found a few minutes to let DIY in on a few secrets, talk us through her forthcoming album, and tell us just how she feels when she gets dressed on a morning.

Is going solo something that you’ve been thinking about doing for a long time? It must have been quite a big decision to make.
I never really thought about it, to be honest. We were all so happy in the band and so busy as well that there was never any time to think of anything else. I never wanted to think of anything else because I’d already, in my eyes, fulfilled a dream come true to think that I was even in the band in the first place. Before we went on the break, I told myself that I wanted to go into the studio and I wanted to learn as much as possible about writing - just the whole studio situation in general. Actually having the time to do that on the break was just amazing to have that opportunity.
As I was going along and writing some records, it got to the point where I was really liking what I was doing and I was confident with what I was working on, and then it turned into working towards making a record. As the process went on and I was writing more and more over the last year, stage by stage I was allowing myself to register that I was making my record as I was getting more and more confident in the studio and my songs were kind of building up. I’d never really had the confidence to think like that before. It took me a year to get my material together and really get myself into a headspace where I was like ‘ok, I’m confident with what I’ve got, I’m gonna now present the record and go forward with it.’

You were quite secretive about the whole recording process…
I didn’t have a deal and at that stage, I really didn’t want one. I didn’t want any dictation to what sound I should be working on. I just didn’t want anyone else to be involved. I just wanted to 100% put my own mind and my own heart into what I wanted to make. I really wanted it to be something that I’ve achieved for myself. Had I have had a deal really early on, I would have been contractually submitted to putting a record out that maybe I wasn’t 100% happy with or 100% confident with and it just wouldn’t have worked. I did it like a new artist would do it. They make the record and then they present it to a label the way it is and hopefully someone picks it up because they believe in what you’ve created and that’s really what happened to me so it worked out well.

Did you ever worry that someone wouldn’t pick it up?
There is always that, isn’t there? When you have full control over something and nobody’s had their say in the situation, the music industry can be a bit political. Essentially, I’m a big believer in what’s meant to be, will be and I had to make the record the way that I felt I could stand by it. And also I’m quite a creative person and I love to write music, and I believe that it has to come from inside you in order for it to be believable and make it feel like you. A&M, the label that I’m with, are happy for me to do that and praise me for doing that. That was really rewarding, in that sense.

Your single ‘Beat Of My Drum’ got its first play live on Radio1, that must’ve been pretty nerve-wracking?
It’s funny because I wrote that song in August last year and I’ve just had it sitting on my laptop for all those months and to finally hear it on the radio was just crazy but at the same time obviously amazing but just weird, strange, very bizarre. Scott Mills is lovely and he loved the song and the feedback from the record critics has been lovely. I haven’t had any bad reviews, which is a lovely surprise.

You must be breathing a sigh of relief now that the first sample of your solo material is out there and the reaction’s been so positive?
It feels like you’re in the studio for such a long time so it feels like such a long time coming. And then all of a sudden you shoot your video and it goes to radio, and it just all kind of happens over night. You’re working on something for months and months and months, and the stress and the headaches behind the scenes, and the detail that goes into something for what feels like overnight and it’s out there, is just bizarre. A sense of relief and at the same time, a sense of reality. It’s all well and good that you’ve been in the studio in your safe bubble but nobody has to judge the music and you’re just enjoying making the music and being creative and going to the studio every day, doing what you love to do. All of a sudden, it becomes a whole different picture. In one respect, excited, and in another respect obviously scared.

The album, ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’, is that finished now?
Yeah, there’s two songs I need to go in with Invisible Men and just talk about the production a little bit, and I need to get into the mixing of those two tracks, but other than that it’s done.

So what can you tell us about it? What can we expect from it?
Obviously the sound is directionally electro and it’s pop, and lyrically, it’s a very real life lyric. Nothing is on there because it rhymes or it’s a conventionally pop lyric, everything’s come from my head and how I think or how I feel so everything’s got an essence of real life. In terms of sound, there’s some more light-hearted stuff on there. The Dragonette track has got more of a slowed-down, dancey beat on it but then the Metronomy track is like a really heavy, powerful, electronic. It sounds like a monk’s ceremony or something, it’s really deep, electronic music. And then ‘Sticks And Stones’ is whurlitzer-led so it’s just keys. It’s quite varied but at the same time all the same kind of sound and the same kind of thing. There’s something for everybody, as long as you like electronic music, that is.

You’ve mentioned some of the many producers you worked with there. How did things work in the studio? Did you write lyrics and they suggest melodies or was it a bit more co-operative?
I just went to the people that I wanted to work with and it depended, really. Sometimes we’d start from scratch and I’d say I really want this track to be happy and I want all the chords to be major and I maybe want a dance-90’s theme, and whoever it was would probably build the track with me their and then I would sing melodies over the track and then we would lyric them. Sometimes there were already tracks available and I’d be presented with ten different tracks that that producer had worked on and I’d say ‘I want to work on that one’ or ‘I like this one and not that one’ and then again we’d put melodies on top and then we’d work on lyrics for the melodies.

Was that a lot different to how you made Girls Aloud albums in the past?
Brian used to let me write at Xenomania. I have a couple of records that I’d written by myself on a Girls Aloud album and I knew that I loved writing and I’ve always loved it from being a young girl. I just love even writing poems and just rhymes and I know that I have it in me and that when I went in to start making the record, it was something that I wanted to get better at. And so I took from Brian, what I’d learnt and just had to be really focussed. I think I’ve learnt so much just making the record. I’m so thankful for everything that I’ve learnt musically. I just have a much better musical ear. I’m so much more confident in making music than what I was before and that’s an achievement for me in itself.

Your lyrics are quite personal, and you mentioned that they were all real life, was it important to you to paint an accurate portrait of yourself?
I like real life stories and I like real life situations and I think that people relate better to songs that feel real and are full of emotion than they do a lyric that doesn’t really mean anything. I can’t speak for everybody but I know that I gravitate towards that and that’s what I like to find in a record. Because I wrote the words, obviously it’s come from my mind and that’s how I think. That’s probably why it’s personal.

Your sense of style has been celebrated by countless magazines, will you be adapting your appearance to suit your music?
I think that with each single, there’s a different feeling throughout the song so ‘Beat Of My Drum’ at the moment, I dress to how I want to feel or I dress to how that song makes me feel so that when I’m on stage, it brings that out in me. It’s no good me being in a cute little babydoll dress screaming ‘dance to the beat of my drum’. and incorporating the Jamaican dancing that I do in the video because it just wouldn’t work so you have to be realistic. Styling is a massive part of that and the next single is very different again and the styling will have to adapt to that. Whatever I’ll wear will have to make me feel like I want to feel whilst singing that song. Even in day to day life, getting dressed is important to me. It sounds ridiculous but in the morning I’ll get dressed and that has to make me feel like how I want to feel for the rest of the day and that really does that for me.

So what’s the plan for the live show? Do you have a tour planned for this year?
It really depends on how well the music does. I’m not one of those people where I get ahead of myself. I’m just taking it one day at a time. I’ve made a record that I’m really proud of and I’ve just had the most amazing fun and learnt so much doing it so I’m just putting it out there. I don’t plan big things way in advance because I don’t like to be let down. I’m just happy go lucky. Let’s see what happens.

Nicola Roberts’ debut solo single ‘Beat Of My Drum’ is out now via Universal Records.

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